Monday, December 3, 2012

Blessed to be a Blessing

Last weekend I drove down to Manasquan, New Jersey, with a group of people from my church. Our objective was to help people impacted by Hurricane Sandy. We spent a very productive day in Manasquan, helping at three different worksites doing various jobs that needed to be done, so we accomplished our objective––we were able to help, at least for a few hours. 

But, as so often happens with volunteer work of this kind, we found that we, ourselves, were on the receiving end of many more blessings than we could ever hope to bestow.

We began our day with a briefing in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Manasquan, a local church which matches up available work crews with people who need help in their community. At our briefing, we were reminded of why we were there in the first place––not so much to work on the homes, they said, but to be there for the homeowners in whatever ways that are needed. Often, we were told, what people need most is a listening ear; after all, people are still trying to cope with the shock of losing so much, so fast, and we needed to be sensitive to that. We needed to be careful, for example, not to throw peoples' belongings in a pile at the curb, but to place them there carefully, with respect. It was hard enough for people to throw out their most cherished possessions, they said; seeing them tossed aside, as if they meant nothing, was almost more than some of them could bear. 

We took that advice to heart at the three homes we visited that day, making an effort not just to work on the task at hand, but also to get to know the homeowners of the homes to which we'd been assigned. And, as we shoveled sand, tore down walls, and helped homeowners haul out debris, we discovered, just as the church leader said, that people needed to talk about what they'd been through. They needed to share their experience of the hurricane. They needed to convey to us how they felt when they saw how much work would be required for remediation. They needed to share with us their stories about dealing with the aftermath of the storm.

Photos from one of our worksites. We helped tear down the walls in this house and remove insulation so that mold could be treated. 
Most of all, though, they needed to let us know how wonderfully and truly blessed they felt after Hurricane Sandy. Because as bad as that storm was––and it was bad––they knew that it could have been so much worse. They were grateful, truly grateful, for their blessings.

It seemed strange to hear people who'd lost so much talk, instead, about how much they had. But they did. All of them. All day long. I don't think I heard a single complaint the entire day, from anyone, about how rough they had it. Even though some of them had lived without power for nearly a month. Even though some of them were still displaced from their homes, with no chance of moving back into their homes for months. Even though they knew that things would never, ever, be the same. Every single person with whom we worked that day chose to highlight, instead, the many blessings they'd received as a result of the storm. 

People mentioned, for example, the help they were receiving, help for which they were so grateful. Family members were providing for them places to live. Friends were offering to help them clean out their homes. Volunteers had arrived from all over the country and were willing to do whatever needed to be done. Their gratitude for these offers of assistance, I think, was not just for the help itself (although that was greatly appreciated), but also for what that help signified to them––namely, that they were not alone. 

It is a wonderful gift to be able to channel the love of God to someone else in such a tangible way, and that's exactly what it felt like we were doing––conveying the compassion of Christ and the love of God in concrete ways to people who really need to know that God is there. We felt like agents of hope in a world gone awry. 

And, in giving that gift of hope, we discovered something pretty awesome in return––that the gift we gave to others was given right back to us, and then some. We were reminded anew that we are, fundamentally, all in this together––whatever "this" happens to be. We were reminded anew that none of us walks alone when we walk with Christ. Through our relationships with one another we become whole and complete in ways that we cannot achieve by ourselves, because it is through our relationships that we become, literally, the Body of Christ. 

One of the homeowners (center) we were privileged to help.
Her neighbor, in the truck in the background, insisted on being included.  We were happy to oblige!

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). We are blessed to be a blessing when we we love others in the way that Christ loves us. We are blessed to be a blessing when we share that love with others.

May this Advent, and beyond, be a time of mutual love for us as we attempt to outdo ourselves in ways of expressing Christ's love to one another. May we all be blessed to be blessings.

The walls of the house and bags of insulation we helped the homeowners remove, after we were finished.

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